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I'm attending a swing dancing class. We are counting from one to eight and start our dance on the one count. I'm struggling a bit to find the one count for the jazz tunes we dance to. Please, take for example the song Ella Fitzgerald - In A Mellow Tone and skip to the 3:15 timestamp. Listening from there, where is the one count (could you please tell me the timestamp) and how I can identifiy it? For other tunes I think I'm hearing that on the 7th and/or 8th count the music "intensifies" or slightly changes its pattern to imply the beginning of the new, following 8 counts but I don't hear it here...

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This may sound strange, but the best way to find the count is often to follow the main melody, the lead vocals if there are any.

To get to grips with this song my suggestion would be: listen to the song from the beginning and - in your mind - sing along using only the sentence "in a mellow tone 2 3 4 5 in a mellow tone 2 3 4 5" and keep repeating it throughout the song, even right through timestamp 3:15 and the saxophone solo. The one count will stay on the word "tone" in the sentence "in a mellow tone". (To be exact: "tone" comes just a little bit before the first count, but it feels like it is part of the beat, of a movement that drops down on count one). The word "in" is NOT on count one but on count six!

The next step is to start listening from timestamp 3:15 onwards and see if you can pick it up, singing along in your head. Go on untill Ella comes back in and hear if you were right. Keep trying over again. Maybe you will notice that the saxophone also plays "sentences" that often end on the first count or have "syllables" that are emphasized on the first count. (Of course this is not the case in every song, but it applies to this one and to many others).

These things are hard to explain but easy once you get the feeling. The danger of trying to understand it by listening to the drummer or the bass player is that you are focusing too much on the details. On the other hand: this is jazz, everybody is playing around with the rhythm, the drummer in this song is the one that is most steady.

Have fun!

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I have had similar experiences with trying to find the 1. I find it helps to remember that the heavy strokes on the snare are always on the 2 and the 4. The bass drum seems to act as only an accent on the upright bass so you are going to rely on the bass to tell what the 1 is. And part of the swing in swing is noticing that the bass has a slight bias towards that elusive downbeat. So shuffle into you find that downbeat and then make the move.

  • Thank you, listening to the snare helps to to know where the 2 and 4 is. But I have a hard time focussing on the upright bass, especially with the other instruments overlaying. To me it yet seems that the upright bass plays on every beat (1,2,3,4) and I can't hear the bias towards the downbeat yet. I think I feel what you mean (the swing), but can't identify it when actually listening and transferring this to the upright bass yet. – nistel Jun 29 '17 at 7:31
  • With downbeat one means 1,2,3,...8, right? How does it help me to find the 1? – nistel Jun 29 '17 at 8:20
  • How are you getting the eighth count? When you're doing the lindy hop (for example), you should be able to get the eighth count right in before the next bar. A figure should take one bar and the last sideshuffle should be on the 4. – Phillip Siebold Jun 29 '17 at 13:26

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